Heavy Traffic

Border drug lords get rich while attorney Mike Barclay gets worn out defending the poor smugglers

"An innocent-looking family isn't going to have much trouble getting back across the border," Barclay says. "They get home, park their RV in the driveway and while they're sleeping, the dealers sneak up and retrieve their drug shipment."

More and more, he says, unaware victims are being lured into the trade. He tells of an independent Garland truck driver who responded to a Dallas Morning News classified ad last winter, seeking someone to haul a load of cattle from Presidio to Fort Worth. He was informed that a loaded trailer would be waiting for him. He was not told that he also would be hauling more than a ton of marijuana. Nor did he have any idea that he would be stopped, arrested and jailed.

Then there are the backpackers, young men familiar with the rugged terrain and willing to hike across the border with 50 to 100 pounds of marijuana. Often equipped with night-vision goggles and two-way radios, they may travel as far as 80 or 90 miles on foot before reaching their assigned drop-off point.

Mike Barclay came to the Tex-Mex border to retire but instead has found new passion in defending "mules" and "coyotes."
Gail Diane Yovanovich
Mike Barclay came to the Tex-Mex border to retire but instead has found new passion in defending "mules" and "coyotes."
Seventeen immigrants were found in this poorly painted Ryder truck about nine miles west of Pecos.
Jon Fulbright/ Pecos Enterprise
Seventeen immigrants were found in this poorly painted Ryder truck about nine miles west of Pecos.

"Not only are they familiar with the region," Sheriff Dodson says, "but they're in constant contact with scouts on this side who alert them to where we [law enforcement] are. I can assure you that every time I pull out of the parking lot in front of my office and start driving south, someone is on a cell phone or walkie-talkie, letting the smugglers know."

Getting illegal aliens across is only a bit more difficult. In some cases, the trucks hauling them northward simply pull over a few miles before reaching a Border Patrol checkpoint, allowing them to walk through the desert and around the inspection station, only to be picked up a few miles beyond it. In other instances, they are picked up by all-terrain vehicles and driven through the darkened desert to a waiting truck.

"If," Leon says, "they can make it up to Interstate 20, they're pretty much home free. From there they can go to New Mexico, Lubbock or Dallas."


It was in Dallas where Barclay honed his craft, where he developed the many skills he would need to navigate the heavy traffic of the border drug war. Like his sense of humor.

"Mike," says retired Dallas County District Judge Don Metcalfe, "was a rarity when he was practicing here. He was not only shrewd; he had this wonderful sense of humor that kept everyone off-balance."

Classmates at SMU Law School, they shared an office during the early stages of their legal careers. And occasionally worked on cases together. It was during that time that Metcalfe became aware of the maverick tendencies of his lifelong friend. "After I became a judge," he says, "I immediately appointed Mike to a couple of cases, thinking if I could successfully control him in the courtroom, I'd be able to handle just about any situation."

It wasn't always easy. "I knew he was an excellent criminal lawyer--maybe the best in Dallas at the time--but it was just impossible to anticipate what he might do."

He recalls a trial during which a particularly natty Dallas police detective was on the stand, testifying against one of Barclay's clients. It was a time before men routinely used hairspray, yet not a single hair on the officer's head was out of place. Suddenly, Barclay interrupted the proceedings to urgently request a conference at the judge's bench. Leaning toward Metcalfe, the lawyer handed him a note: Judge, it read, the boys in Homicide Division are wondering if the witness wears a hairpiece. May I inquire?

It was during that trial that Barclay, in his effort to prove that the officers who arrested his client had not properly identified themselves as police after bursting through an apartment door, called the accused's girlfriend to the stand. Did she, Barclay wanted to know, hear anyone announce themselves as a police officer?

Barclay, of course, already knew the answer she would provide: "No sir," the young woman testified. "All I heard was, 'Freeze, motherfucker, or die.'"

Once, while cross-examining a witness who could not remember if his client was missing an eye, Barclay removed his own prosthetic eye that he'd worn since a 1947 semipro football accident and placed it on the witness stand. "If he looked like this," he said, pointing to his own vacant eye socket, "don't you think you would recall it?"

He clearly enjoyed and was devoted to his work, always quick with an amusing story to pass along to colleagues; a man to whom laughter came easily. As the '80s approached, the career malaise that often befalls defense lawyers hit. Losing three consecutive court-appointed capital murder cases didn't help. "I finally realized I was burning out," he reflects, "and began looking for a way to escape everything--the violent crime, the Dallas traffic, the whole big-city rat race."

Years earlier he'd begun the habit of vanishing into the Big Bend area for Christmas vacations and became enamored with the wide-open spaces and slow pace of the region. By the time he'd made the decision to close down his Dallas practice and semi-retire, he'd decided that Alpine, with a population just shy of 6,000, would be his new home.

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